Born as “audioblogging” in the 1980’s and rebranded as Podcasts by MTV’s Adam Curry, also known as ‘the Podfather’, podcasts are rapidly growing in popularity. iTunes first started carrying them in June 2005, and today there are more than 525,000 active podcasts available online with nearly six million people tuning in weekly in the UK.
Research conducted by Ofcom shows that comedy podcasts are leading the way, followed by music, TV and film-related content. Amongst the most popular of the comedy podcasts is the aptly named, My Dad Wrote A Porno. The podcast does what it says on the tin; Jamie Morton reads his dad’s series of amateur erotic novels with additional comedic commentary from his two friends, James Cooper and Alice Levine. MDWAP is a viral success story and currently boasts over 120 million downloads despite only starting in 2015; it even completed a UK live tour with a sold-out night at the Royal Albert Hall.
But it’s not just light-hearted podcasts we favour, we also lap up the darker side of things; illustrated by the continued rise of ‘True Crime’. Serial is perhaps the best-known podcast in this genre, but with ‘True Crime’ entering the mainstream through the success of TV shows like Making a Murderer, there has been a dramatic upsurge in listening. Podcasts such as Last Podcast on the Left, Sword and Scale and My Favourite Murder, have all seen a dramatic rise in downloads and are accruing sizeable online followings. My Favourite Murderer now has a Facebook fan page of over 200,000 users, showing how quickly podcast communities are growing.
Why are podcasts so popular?
One of the reasons podcasts are so popular is their range and flexibility; there is a podcast for every niche interest and to suit every schedule (from short-form snippets to lengthy immersive narratives). Even if you only have a 20-minute commute to work and have a penchant for listening to comedians talking about outer space, there is a podcast for you. Additionally, the opportunity to listen while going about day-to-day tasks is extremely appealing and is a perfect fit for peoples’ increasingly frenetic lifestyles.
Podcasts tell stories, which as humans we’re programmed to enjoy and value from childhood. According to the psychologist Pamela B. Rutledge, “stories leap frog the technology and bring us to the core of experience”. Increasingly listeners can shape these stories; social media forums can help to define and refine topics and the narrative of episodes, creating a sort of feedback loop and growing listener loyalty. Elis James and John Robins’ popular podcast is a prime example of this, including listener segments such as ‘Made Up Games’ – an exploration of families’ traditional and slightly odd games, ‘Textual Healing’ – a chance for John and Elis to give some not so good advice in response to their listeners’ problems and ‘John’s Shames Well’ – delving into listeners’ most shameful experiences which continue to haunt them.
Another positive aspect of podcasts is that they can be an antidote to screen time. Apple’s addition of Screen Time to their latest update reflects a growing concern with the amount of time we spend on personal devices, and indicates that podcasts could play a role in addressing this.
What does the future hold for podcasts?
Increasingly listeners are putting their money where their mouths are and funding their favourite creators. Websites such as Patreon, see listeners voluntarily paying for free content – showing their loyalty and willingness to part with their money in order to keep a free service going. As a daily podcast listener, I’m hopeful this shows that podcasts are here to stay!